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Authors: Dianne Venetta

Tags: #romance, #women, #southern, #mystery, #small town, #contemporary, #food, #series, #tennessee, #cozy

Losing Ladd (10 page)

BOOK: Losing Ladd
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Jillian,” he murmured,
keeping his voice purposefully low as he drew up beside
her.

Sliding a hand down the
counter, she turned, peering up into his face with a practiced
calm. “
Amorzhino
.” She smiled, her eyes slanting in pleasure. “I was so glad
to get your phone call. I knew you’d come to your senses
eventually. Your country wife must be leaving you alone much too
much,” she purred, tiptoeing her fingers up his chest.

Removing her slender hand from his
body, he pressed it back against her chest. Planting his hands to
his waistband, he said, “This isn’t a friendly visit. I want to
know why you’re here and how you’re mixed up with Jeremiah
Ladd.”


Are you
jealous?”


Couldn’t care less,” he
retorted.

Jillian slid her arms around his torso
and pushed into him. “You have nothing to worry about. I’ve never
heard of the man.”

Roughly pulling her arms
from him, Nick brought them together, securing them in a
single-fisted grip. “I’m not playing games with you, Jillian.
Jeremiah was bailed out, with
cash
. Where did he get
it?”

Anger lit up the gold in her eyes,
emotion thrashing openly before she snuffed the flames and smirked.
“Perhaps he went to a bank?”


I think it was you.” Nick
leaned down, whispering harshly, “I think you contacted the casino
in Vegas and paid his marker for him.”

Jillian didn’t shrink from him. He
knew she wouldn’t give him the pleasure and certainly not for
public consumption. Instead, she held her ground and softened her
tone. “Why would I pay money on behalf of someone I don’t
know?”


Because you and Jeremiah
share a common goal.”

Hypnotic eyes turned up at the ends as
she ushered forth a pout. “Does he want you like I want
you?”

A bartender walked up behind Jillian,
depositing a martini glass filled with aquamarine liquid. The young
man cast a hesitant eye toward Nick’s hold on Jillian’s arms. “Can
I get you something to drink, sir?”

Nick shook his head. “No, thanks. I
won’t be staying.”

The kid moved down the bar, attending
to other patrons.


You should stay,” Jillian
hummed against her burgundy-glossed lips. “I will make it worth
your while.”

He wasn’t interested in her tease.
Only her end game. “I will figure it out. I will put you two
together.”


Don’t waste your time.
The only ‘two’ you should be putting together is you and me.” She
winked. “Like the old days.”

Nick released her in a sudden thrust
and stepped away from her. He was getting nowhere. While he thought
he could detect the lie in her eyes, Jillian’s practiced deception
was a mask he couldn’t penetrate. No problem. There were other ways
to get at the truth besides attempting to extract it from her up
close and personal. “Oh, and by the way, how did you get here so
soon? I only called your father forty-eight hours ago.”


I am a woman of means.”
Reaching for her drink, she explained, “You know how I feel about
you. When I heard you were looking for me, I rushed here as fast as
I could.”

Nick believed her slippery leer
suggested differently. “Hope it was worth the expense.”

She brought the
Cosmopolitan to her lips, tiger eyes becoming slits as she replied,
“Every
centavo
.”

 

Jeremiah Ladd sat in his parked car.
Tucked away in the heavily wooded section of the property, Cal
Foster’s log home was big. Rambling almost. And expensive. Jeremiah
didn’t know much about building materials, but he didn’t have to.
Two stories in height, the house was lined with porches and
connected to smaller structures by breezeways. Late afternoon, the
trees around him were drenched in gold, shadows growing across the
yard as night came to call. Huge plate-glass windows lined the
front and sides, allowing for an unobstructed view of the forest
around them. Lights illuminated the walkways, casting glowing beams
up trees from their placement along the ground. Bushes and trees
around the home had to be newly planted, but appeared as if they’d
been there for years. It took money to accomplish that—and lots of
it. Jack had been right. His brother was loaded.

But Cal had no right to
build his home here. This land rightfully belonged to him. It was
his family’s land, not Cal’s. Not Annie’s. Not even her bastard
child’s. Old resentment percolated in Jeremiah’s gut. This was his
land, yet
they
were the ones living on it. They were the ones who looted his
gold, leaving barely a flake behind for him to salvage. Jeremiah
tightened his fist around the steering wheel of his truck. Well,
those days were over. Their high-living at his expense was about to
come to an end. He would make them sorry they ever pushed him out
of his rightful inheritance.

Startling him from his reverie,
Jeremiah’s cell phone rang. He yanked it from the center console.
“Talk to me.”


He’s gone.”


Gone where?”


I followed him to the
highway.”

Jeremiah smiled. “Keep following
him.”


What
? For how long?”


Until I tell you.”
Jeremiah pressed the End button.

Until I finish my business
here, that’s how long
. A little probing of
Jack Foster told Jeremiah everything he needed to know. Cal and
Annie lived here. Her daughter and punk husband lived in a cabin
located farther back. Jeremiah couldn’t see it from here, but he
didn’t care. He was here for one reason and one reason
only.

Sliding free of his truck, he rallied
his anger and walked up to the Foster home. Hustling up the steps,
he peered in through the front window and smiled. Annie was home.
She was standing in the living room by a desk of sorts, a narrow
table pushed up against a wall near what looked to be the entrance
to a kitchen. Dressed in a hot pink blouse and white cotton skirt
and flats, she looked young and fresh. Pretty. Grinning, he rapped
on the door. This should be fun.

Several seconds passed and the door
opened. Annie gasped, flinging a hand over her mouth.

Staring into widened blue eyes,
Jeremiah chuckled. “Hello, Annie.”

She tried to ram the door closed, but
Jeremiah shoved a boot inside, blocking her efforts. He needed some
time with her and he was going to enjoy it. “What? Not happy to see
me?”


What are you doing here?”
she demanded.


I’m here to rekindle an
old flame.”

Alarm surged in her gaze. “Get out of
here, Jeremiah. You’re not welcome here.”


Awe, Annie. We’re family,
you and me. We have a daughter together. Can’t a guy come and pay
his respects to the grandmother of his grandchild?”

Her black brow furrowed in suspicion.
“Casey told me you showed up at the hospital.”


I did. Too bad her baby
looks like a raisin. Must take after your side of the
family.”

Regaining some of her old spite, Annie
pushed back, “You get out of here, Jeremiah, before I call the
police.”

He laughed, intentionally
sharp and derisive. “Oh, you floor me Annie, you really do. Call
the police? Doesn’t your family have enough to worry about with the
police these days?” Realization instantly cooled her indignation,
and he took full advantage. “That’s right. I know about your
son-in-law’s legal troubles and I know the law isn’t on your side.”
He meant Gavin Shore. Jack boasted about his mother’s connections
to the police department and how they did everything but turn
Delaney away and kicked her to the curb.
Go home, Delaney, and suck it up
. He
savored a private smile. Jeremiah only wished he could have been
there to witness the exchange. Not to worry. He’d be witnessing
some of his own glory and soon.

Pushing his way inside her home,
Jeremiah looked around and let out a low whistle. “Looks like
someone married up in the world.”

Annie marched over to a phone by a
plush leather sofa. Supple smooth and littered with pillows, it
looked comfortable. Taking stock of the interior, Jeremiah noted
the fancy lighting, the rich wood furniture, oversized paintings
and cowboy bronze statues and thought this guy had money to burn.
Annie set her hand to the phone receiver and glared at him. “If you
don’t leave right now, I’m calling the police.”

Jeremiah sauntered in farther, tempted
to drop to a seat and make himself at home. “Why don’t you call
your hubby?” He snickered. “Oh, wait. He’s on a highway on his way
out of town.”

The comment served its purpose. The
color drained from Annie’s cheeks, her skin ice-cold against the
bright flush of her blouse. “What do you want?” she
asked.


Like I said, I wanted to
stop by for a visit, rekindle old times.”


No one here is interested
in visiting with you.”


Tsk, tsk. So different
than the girl I used to know in high school. That girl would have
kissed my boot if I asked her.”

Annie returned a hooded gaze. “Like
you said, so different than today.”


Too bad. We’re kin, now,”
he said, walking toward her, dragging his fingertips along the top
of the sofa as he approached her. Keeping a wary eye out for
unexpected intruders, he noted the leather was as soft as it
looked.


Funny how we’re all of a
sudden kin,” she said, “when for the last twenty years I’ve tried
to prove exactly that and you shut me down. Where was your desire
to be ‘kin’ then?”


Oh, Annie. You’re too
hard on a man. I only dodged you because you were trying to extort
money from me.”


Extort money from you?
How about do what’s right and pay for your child?”

Jeremiah laughed softly. “I never said
I wanted a baby with you.” Nearing her, he could feel a palpable
fury radiating from her body. Every cell seemed to be vibrating hot
and wild. Recalling their days together, it occurred to him she had
a passionate side, a very willing passionate side. She certainly
knew how to please a fellow when she wanted to. “You and I
should’ve spent more time together.”


Should’ve thought about
that before you ran off with my sister, Lacy.”

Jeremiah laughed. Thoroughly enjoying
himself, he almost hated to leave. But leave he must. He had bigger
fish on his pole than Annie. Though looking into her eyes triggered
an old arousal. She had been one of the prettier ones, one of the
pure ones in his past. “Didn’t she tell you?” He leaned forward and
whispered, “Lacy and I were never more than friends.”

Knowing he had
sufficiently incensed Annie, Jeremiah turned on his heel and walked
back to the front door. Pausing, he turned and winked. “Don’t
worry. We’ll see each other again before I leave town.” Closing the
door on his way out, Jeremiah took pleasure in the sound of her
angry shriek.
Miss you too,
Annie
.

Chapter Nine

 


May I help you
please?”

Staring down at the young woman behind
the counter, more girl than woman, he smiled. “Are these real
gold?”


Oh, yes,” she replied.
“Fourteen carat.”

Gazing at the gold pendant pulled from
the display case, he fondled it between his fingers. It was small,
no larger than his thumbnail, but felt solid. “And you said this
here was made from the gold they found on this land?”


Yes, sir. Mr. Harris had
it mined for the sole purpose of selling here in the hotel. A
souvenir from the very earth you visited.”

She smiled, and he smiled back.
Replacing the pendant on the small velvet tray, he scanned the case
below where rows of similarly formed pendants were displayed. They
varied in size, but all were formed in the shape of a wishing well.
He stroked the thin tips of his beard and pondered how he was going
to pull off his heist. Jeremiah said to steal as many as he could.
Take them by the box full if he could swing it. Peering into the
big round eyes of the innocent country girl, he dubbed it would be
child’s play. But first he had to get rid of her.


Would you like to
purchase the pendant?”


Uh... I need to think
about it for a minute.”


Okay,” she chirped, happy
as a bird flittering through treetops on a spring morning. “Let me
know if there’s anything I can help you with.”


I will,” he replied,
realizing he knew exactly how he was gonna do it. Snagging a peek
toward the front desk, he counted two clerks. Add this one and
there were three girls on shift tonight. Three. Dropping a
possessive hand over the pendant, caressing the gold chain attached
to it, he knew the store was supposed to be closing soon. Sign said
five-thirty.

It was about that time,
now.

As though giving him time to think
over his purchase, the girl moseyed down to the opposite end of the
counter, pretending to organize some postcards along the wall. When
she turned her back, he bumped his Styrofoam cup. Coke spilled in a
rapid slide across the glass counter and onto the floor. “Dag
nabbit!” he exclaimed.

BOOK: Losing Ladd
8.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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